View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Sunday, 28 August 2016

9/11 commemoration 2016

At 1.46pm BST on 11 September, this blog will publish two tributes to victims of 9/11. These are for Norberto Hernandez (a pastry chef in the Windows on the World restaurant) and Dwayne Collman, a flight attendant on flight 11, which crashed in Pennsylvania.

Much has changed in the world in these 15 years. Unfortunately, mindless violence has not yet left us.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Transocean Winner removed

On Monday evening (August 22nd), at 10.05pm, the Transocean Winner rig was successfully removed from the rocks at Dalmore. The structure was taken to Broad Bay, in a tow that took nearly 48 hours. There, it will be assessed for damage and a decision is to be taken at a later date as to how it will be taken to a facility for demolition. Although the local council have offered the services of the Arnish Fabrication Yard, the rig's owners (Transocean) have said that there is insufficient depth of water in the channel to the Yard to take the rig.

I went to Dalmore on Monday evening by bus, firstly by service bus to the end of the road leading into the village itself. The last half mile was covered in a convoy. People had parked their vehicles in the verge of the road. From the road end, a dedicated shuttle bus was ferrying spectators back and forth to the village, where a viewing area had been marked out. In the end, I estimate that about 200 people were watching. I found myself close to someone with a radio receiver, and I could hear the communications between the tugs, the crew on the rig and the salvage master, Sylvia Tervoort.

When high tide approached, the tugs were told to gradually increase the force applied to the tow wires, until, at 10.05pm, 120 tons on the wire (and 75% of power) dragged the Transocean Winner off the rocks. The next discussion was about the course to take, and Ms Tervoort told the captain of one of the tugs that this had been outlined in an email. The captain blustered (in Dutch) that he didn't have time to have his head stuck in front of a computer all blinking day - he had not read the email and was embarrassed to be found in ignorance.

By half past ten, the tow was well underway and I made my way back to the road. A fleet of emergency vehicles were leaving, and I found myself in the back of an ambulance. Other people, who were walking up the road, were also picked up. My taxi came at 11pm, as arranged (although the police had to render some assistance) and under a rising moon, I returned to Stornoway at 11.30pm.

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Sunday, 21 August 2016

Transocean Winner

Although I dub the hapless oilrig "Transocean Loser", it's not her fault that she ended up as an unwanted and unusual piece of flotsam, washed up at Dalmore. Two public meetings have come and gone, the late August springtide will be ebbing in the next few days, and it will be at least another fortnight before the Transocean Winner can be towed away from the West Side of Lewis.

I ask the question why the tow got underway, in spite of a gale in its path being forecast five days before it occurred.

I concur with Capt Maurice Macleod who asked Transocean why their rig wasn't ballasted down in the face of a rising gale.

I ask the Maritime and Coastguard Agency MCA whether they were monitoring this tow, and were advising the skipper of the tug Alp Forward to divert, either down the Minch or further out into the Atlantic.

I am displeased with the spineless attitude of our local authority who will not express an opinion on the necessity of an emergency towing vessel until the investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch is complete. This could take at least a year. I call it spineless, because the SNP group on said council have set up a petition to return an ETV to Stornoway, which flies in the face of the procrastination as endorsed by the full council.

I fully support the council, coastguard and police in enforcing the road closure of the Dalmore village road, between the A858 Carloway to Shawbost road, and the cemetery; a temporary opening on Monday 9th resulted in traffic chaos which took a long time to clear. I support the same agencies in warning people to stay away from the coastline between Gearrannan and Dalbeg (including Dalmore); this coastline is fronted by tall cliffs topped by grassy slopes which are slippery, certainly in the wet conditions that prevailed in the days following the grounding of the Transocean Winner.

I am not pleased with the attitude from Transocean and certain local agencies who ignored an invitation from the local community association to give information last Monday (15th), yet organised their own meeting three days later in the same village hall, something that smacks of a slap across the face. Transocean have apologised, which is the right and proper thing to do.

I anxiously await further developments, but hope that compensation claims from those adversely affected by this grounding (like the surfing company and local fishermen) will be speedily and favourably assessed.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016


The picture currently fronting this blog shows Dalmore beach, without an oilrig, as it was on 23 March 2011. The Transocean Winner ran aground at Dalmore in the early hours of 8 August 2016 and is likely to stay there for several weeks before it can be removed. The front picture will remain up until the rig is gone.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Turk and the Czar

You'll remember that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a military coup recently. Who was the first to ring him up afterwards? Vladimir Putin.

Turkey is a member of NATO. Its president, the aforementioned Mr Erdoğan, is looked at by the Americans askance. However, he is a key ally in the fight against Da'esh (you know, so-called Islamic State) and buffer against the horrors that lurk within the Middle East. Really and truly, the Americans should have been in there first to congratulate Erdoğan on his survival.

Same applies to the Europeans. For decades, they have rejected Turkish aspirations to the join the European Union. However, they needed Turkey to stop the flow of migrants and refugees and should have been a little more amicable to their eastern neighbour when he emerged from dire straits.

At the end of the day, Erdoğan is not a pleasant fellow, from our perspective. He is an autocrat, suppresses dissent and has for years sought to draw power onto himself. From his perspective however, he feels let down by his friends. The Europeans have been ungrateful for his acquiescence in the matter of the refugees, and so have the Americans. Putin spotted and immediately seized the opportunity, realising that Erdoğan was not flavour of the month in either Brussels or Washington. And he would love nothing less than to take Turkey out of European (and better still NATO) spheres and into his.

Erdoğan and Putin had a major falling out last year, when the Turks downed a Russian fighter jet over the Syrian border. But now it's kiss and make up time.

I don't think either Brussels or Washington have been canny in their dealings with the Turkish president. Whilst disliking him, and I totally understand why, they could have exercised some political expediency to keep him on board.

I do not expect Erdoğan to fall for Putin any time soon. But this is a strong warning, an amber signal, to the Americans and Europeans.


Transocean Winner

That is the name of the semi-submersible oil rig that became stuck fast on rocks off Dalmore beach in the early hours of Monday 8 August. The structure, which weighs in at 17,000 tonnes, was being towed from Norway to Malta, and on to Turkey, broke loose from its tug and was blown ashore in galeforce winds. The tug, Alp Forward, had been experiencing problems controlling its tow for some hours beforehand.

The rig has nearly 300 tons of diesel on board, but no crew. Nobody got hurt. A debate has flared up about having an emergency tug stationed at Stornoway (ours got withdrawn 4 years ago). Meanwhile, the Coastguard have cordoned off Dalmore - its single-track access road is closed to all traffic, and appealed Nosey Nick (Johnny Public in other words) not to venture out onto the cliffs to get a sneaky peek.

The plan is to haul the Transocean Loser (as I call it) off the rocks at the next springtide, which will occur late next week. Let's hope it's a success. I hate to see lovely Dalmore defiled like this.

Image courtesy BBC

Thursday, 4 August 2016


It's August, so we can expect a gale. Force 9 over the Uists, force 8 here in Lewis. Big deal. There have been bitter complaints about this summer's weather, but when I look back over my notes from years gone by, I don't see the problem. This is the Outer Hebrides, latitude 58 north, and wind, rain and chilly weather are part of the deal. Today's temperature is 18C / 64F, which is perfectly acceptable. It is a sunny and breezy day, one to be treasured. The last nice day was July 19th, so we may yet get another one before August is out.